I’d like to share a story I wrote fifteen years ago….A day that often feels like yesterday… A day I’ll never forget…A day that changed my life… A day that changed my country!
September 11, 2001 is a day I’ll never forget, and pray I never see happen again, but I was lucky that day, as I lost no loved ones as many others did.
I was at work that morning, just a regular work day for me, when suddenly a friend said, “a plane just hit the Twin Towers in New York.” It was 8:46 a.m. At first I didn’t believe what I had heard and quickly headed over to the bank – they had their TV set on CNN news. I stood there in disbelief as I watched smoke rising from Tower One of the World Trade Center – I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! I was watching it on TV, but my mind did not want to accept what was on the screen.
At 9:15 a.m., a second plane flew into Tower Two – now I was really scared, my stomach was in knots and had tears in my eyes. Questions were running through my head – questions I had no answers for. I soon began hearing names like Taliban, Al Quida and Osama Bin Laden. Names I had never heard before, but was quickly learning who they were. My thoughts ran to “why have I not heard of them before?” Was I living a too sheltered and safe life? That was all changing quickly.
My life would now be lived in fear – fear for my children, my husband, our families and America. Fear – a four letter word I had never lived with before, but now it suddenly was forced upon me.
I left work, shaken, confused and wanting my husband and children to come home quickly. I felt the need to have my family together and under our roof. My son and husband were still at work and my daughter was at the local college. She called me after I was home and I told her to hurry home after class. My mother lives in Georgia – I made a call to assure her we were all ok here, as we are only a couple of hours from New York City.
Once I was home, I sat glued to the TV – CNN specifically. Of course there was no regular programming any longer – all stations ran continual live coverage. I watched the pandemonium of New York City ‘live’ that day. The streets were filled with people on cell phones running from the clouds of smoke and dust, which quickly followed them down streets and alleys, as they ran for their lives. I felt as if I was watching a horror movie and soon I’d find it wasn’t real. I was hoping that any minute I would see my world hadn’t changed, and these people on TV running for their lives from the smoke of the collapsed buildings that were blanketing the streets, were only actors – but that did not happen.
What I was watching, was history – and my world had changed for today and always. I felt a feeling of panic setting in and I told my family “no one goes out tonight, I want everyone home under our roof, safe if only for tonight.” I needed the peace of mind that we were all together unlike what the people in New York City were facing.
There was so much panic in the streets of the city – they didn’t even know where to run, as they ran from fire, smoke and confusion of the entire area. There were no running taxis, buses or subways in the city – the city was in gridlock and completely shut down. New York city was in what was called a “lock-down.” No one was getting in or out, at least not very easily. If you were close to the train station you might have been one of the lucky ones who made the last train that left before the station closed. Cars were bumper to bumper trying to leave the city, but even having a car wasn’t guaranteeing you a way out. Tunnels, highways and bridges were being closed. I’ll never forget the site of watching thousands of people walking over the Long Island and Brooklyn Bridge. It was a bridge of human masses covering every inch as they tried to make their way home to waiting loved ones. Many people made it home that day, but many were left stranded in New York. In fact, it took some people a couple of days before they actually got home.
Days turned into weeks of watching “news,” mostly CNN. Before 911, I never watched that channel except in surfing by, but now it became home to me. We watched no regular TV programming in our house for over two weeks. I lived to watch, watch and watch CNN every waking hour I was home. As soon as I came home from work, the TV was tuned to CNN and pretty much stayed there. My husband and I watched the attack, collapse and the clean-up every day, over and over. I was more obsessed then him in watching the coverage.
After about two weeks, the live news ended on an hourly basis for the main channels and regular programming slowly creeped back to some sort of normalcy, but what was normal to us now? I had guilt feelings as I began to stop watching the news every waking hour and trying to get back to my life, watching my regular soap operas and sitcoms and not the news – but life does go on. It took me many months before I stopped completely, as I felt very drawn to CNN and their news coverage.
I can’t begin to even understand, how it was to have been there at Ground Zero on that day. It’s a sixteen acre site, but much looking much smaller on TV. The Twin Towers took years to build, and in only a few minutes… lives, jobs and homes were gone forever. This is something that has never happened on our home-land; it took everyone by surprise and left us stunned.
Besides dealing with the attack on our country, we next dealt with President Bush declaring war on Afghanistan because they were harboring Al Quida and Osama Bin Laden. I remember that day very well, it was a Sunday and my daughter was in New Jersey. When I heard it on TV I felt very panicky and called her immediately – telling her what had happened and insisted she come home right away. She was scheduled to come home later in the day on the Metro train, but that meant she’d come into Penn Station and have to walk to Grand Central and catch the Metro train to New Haven. I insisted she take the Amtrak train, which would bring her directly into New Haven. At that point I did not want her walking through New York, but instead to just come straight home. If something further happened, I didn’t want her caught in a lock-down in New York and be stranded there alone. I was being a “mother.” It was a long five hours before I picked her up at the train station, but I then knew she was safe.
Even though I had slowly drifted back to regular programming, I never stopped thinking about the destruction on a daily basis. Everyday I checked on the discovery of bodies and the progress of removing debris at “Ground Zero.” There were tons and tons of twisted steel to be removed as they searched with rescue dogs looking for survivors. Television constantly updated us on the war in Afghanistan, almost on a blow by blow account.
11 months later…
Ground Zero was finally closed for clean up in August (2002) and is now being prepared for the memorial planned for September 11th this year.
1 year later:
As the days inched toward September 11, 2002 I felt emotional with feelings creeping back – I didn’t want to watch those scenes again of the planes hitting the towers, and see the smoke and the fires billowing from them. I never wanted to relive those scenes again.
When I grew up, I never knew the word ‘terrorist,’ but unfortunately my children and I know of that word today. I resent that they have to live the rest of their lives in our United States with that lingering cloud hovering forever.
Since Sept. 11th I look at life differently. I am not as much tuned in to CNN as I was in the beginning – times when I could not stray from those channels. I felt the need to keep updated – every waking moment. Eventually I did pry myself away – life goes go on – and I had to live.
America – the land of the free and home of the brave will never be the same again.
We will now always live in fear and the threat of another attack – and that is exactly what they had hoped to achieve.
This is what they wanted –
our lives to be lived in terror – as they live.
We now live that fear – never living life as we once did.
I wrote this on the anniversary of 911 – one year later. This story is in my group of stories I wrote titled Growing up Southern.